@Business: Do You Have a Smart Social Media Strategy?

Facebook is great for “liking” your friends’ status updates. Twitter is ideal for keeping up with your favorite celebrities. YouTube’s the best way to find a video clip of a cat hanging by its claws from a tree. But social media sites like these, and the dozens of others that exist, have uses far beyond just chatting with friends and killing time online. For businesses, they are the newest and hottest way to get people interested in — and buying — their products.

What’s Your Handle?

First and foremost, a company’s social media strategy must focus on more than advertising. Wendy Soucie, a Wisconsin-based social media strategist, says businesses need to remember the “social” part of social media. “If all they use it for is a cheap way to advertise and market their products, they will actually fail,” notes Soucie. “They won’t be successful because the people who are using social media use it much more to be social first, and they allow businesses to come into their social space by following and liking them. If companies aren’t fun, if all they do is pitch their products, they’ll turn their followers off really quickly.”

Soucie uses the example of AJ Bombers, a burger restaurant in Milwaukee that does such a good job of talking to its customers on Twitter that the company knows their names – and Twitter handles – when they walk in through the door. “It’s all about extending the relationship with customers,” Soucie says.

Or take 14-year-old Harry Hodgson, a student at South Axholme School in Doncaster, United Kingdom. He co-owns an Internet radio station, Reem Radio, and uses Twitter and Facebook to promote it. With Twitter, he lets the station’s followers know about upcoming programs, and also gets feedback on the station and suggestions for improvement.

Hodgson has also had a social media internship with the website raisingceokids.com and is planning social media campaigns for several nonprofit projects. He’s done all this by learning on his own the best ways to use social media to build a business and help it thrive. “I think you should balance your learning,” he says. “Self-teach, then check your teaching with an expert. I recommend watching some YouTube videos and signing up for some newsletters and maybe even asking around. That’s all I did. It won’t take a day or a week to learn – it may take a month or longer, but you’ve got to stay hungry and really believe the work can pay off.”

Before starting to use social media tools, companies need to ask themselves two questions: Are their customers using social media, and do they know which platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube – they use? If they can answer both questions, then they’re ready to start their campaign, Soucie suggests.

Frequency Matters

The next challenge is making sure that the company has the resources – the money, the manpower or the time – to keep itself active on social media once its gets started.

“You can’t build a Facebook page and leave it alone like so many people did with websites,” notes Soucie. “If you’re in social media, are you sharing something of value and interacting with your audience regularly? If you’re not sharing two or three times a day, an email newsletter may be the right choice.”

So you know how to tweet, your company has a clear strategy and you have devoted time and money to the social media campaign. While a lot of companies would consider their planning complete, many skip the most important step, says Brian Solis, a new media expert at Altimeter Group in San Mateo, Calif. It is deciding how to measure the success of the campaign. Will you count the number of Twitter followers? The number of Facebook shares? The number of products that are purchased after the campaign begins?

Once you embrace social media, adds Solis, you need to make sure it is working for you – and adjust your strategy accordingly if it is not. Invest in ways to measure effectiveness, rather than just posting, tweeting and hoping they stick. In his blog “You Can’t Measure What It Is You Do Not Value,” Solis writes, “The path to measurement starts with a clear picture of the destination and what it takes to get from here to there.” Companies need to “understand the need and the opportunity amongst customers and prospects” and “design programs that meet their needs, offer tangible value and tie to business objectives.”

Monitoring the so-called “three Fs” – Friends, Fans and Followers – is not a complete measurement of success, suggests Solis. Social media connections run deeper. “Focusing on numbers is only part of the story in this intricate production we call social media,” he notes. In the end, you are measured by whom you reach, the experiences you create and the actions you inspire.

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“If companies aren’t fun, if all they do is pitch their products, they’ll turn their followers off really quickly.”
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